Does the Bhagavad-gita teach that all paths lead to the same goal?
Is there convergence or divergence among the various paths outlined in the Bhagavad-gita?
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There is neither convergence nor divergence among the various paths in the Bhagavad Gita. There is a systematic progression. Let us start looking at Bhagavad Gita verses that indicates the divergence of the path and we will look at some verses that indicate convergence. and then we will see the progression part. which reconciles both . So a common notion about Bhagavad Gita and in general about the vedic wisdom traditions that teaches that all path leads to the same goal. If you look at the Bhagavad Gita 9:25, it is very categorical repetition of this. Where Krishna says,’ whatever people worship that will be the situation they will get’. So here Krishna is talking about the three modes yanti deva-vrata devan, so worship of the demigods is in the mode of goodness, worship of pitras is in the mode of passion and the worship of gost entities is in the mode of ignorance. And Krishna says one will get the destinations accordingly but His own worship is transcendental. And those who are worshiping Krishna , they will attain Him. So this verse very clearly indicates that different paths leads to different ends. Further we have bg 7:23 which also indicates antavat tu phalam tesam , tad bhavaty alpa-medhasam, devan deva-yajo yanti, mad-bhakta yanti mam api , here Krishna is again telling devan deva-yajo yanti,So in the previous verse there were four contrasting paths, here Krishna is putting worshiping of all demigods in one path. He says that those who worship God will attain god and those who worship Me will ge me, mad-bhakta yanti mam api so Krishna is very clear that different path lead to different destinations. Now Shrila Prabhupada puts forward a straight practical example that if we catch different trains for different destinations, we will not reach the same destination. If i catch a train to Kolkatta then I will not reach Mumbai or Delhi. Now the impersonalists who try to say that ‘ok different path leads to same goal’, they may argue that actually the absolute truth is not a limited finite place like Kolkatta or Mumbai, it is eternal, it is an absolute and unlimited, therefore the analogy is invalid. But actually it is their critic of the analogy which is not valid, because the analogy is not comparing the destinations , the analogy is comparing the paths. yes Krishna is unlimited but that doesn’t mean that all paths go to Him. in fact if all paths were to go to Him then Krishna had no reason to speak the Bhagavad Gita, because whatever Arjuna would have done still Arjuna would have attained Krishna. And the Bhagavad Gita is very categorically at the end itself also Krishna says that Arjuna now you decide what you want to do , in bg 18:58 He says that ‘If you become conscious of me you will attain me, if you don’t become conscious of me and act out of false ego , you will be lost. mac-citah sarva-durgani, mat-prasadat tarisyasi, atha cet tvam ahnkaran, na srosyasi vinanksyasi, So he says vinanksyasi, you will be lost if you don’t hear me. and mat-prasadat tarisyasi and cross over all the obstacles if you hear me , become conscious of me, and act accordingly. So the divergence of the various paths they will lead to different destinations. this cannot be denied in the Bhagavad Gita. Here at the same time there are some verses which also seem to support the convergence idea. In bg5:4,5 sankhya-yogau prathag balah, pravadanti na panditah, ekam apy asthitah samyag, ubhayor vindate phalam, and the same thing continues in the next verse yat sankhyaih prapyate sthanam, tad yogir api gamyate, ekam sankhyam ca yogam ca , yah pasyati sa pasyati, . Krishna is basically comparing here the two path which is namely here are sankhya and yoga , so sankhya and yoga also two systems of philosophy with in Indian schools of philosophy. But Krishna is using here more on a generic sense, where sankhya refers to the path of contemplation , analysis whereas yoga refers to the path of action. Sankhya will refer to gyan here and yoga refers either to karma yoga or to bhakti yoga. So Krishna is saying that by both path one will attain the same destination. and eko prapyate if one becomes situated well in one path then he will attain the second path also. so one who sees very clearly because the destinations of both the paths is the same, ekam sankhyam c yogam ca , therefore one sees the oneness of all the paths. that person is a true seeer . So her Krishna seems to indicate a rather convergence where the two path leads to the same destination. and further in the seventh chapter itself , I quoted earlier also bg 7;23, but just before that Krishna says that in bg7:22, what ver the people worship, whatever demigod that they worship and whatever they attain , actually it is I am who only gives it to them. So it seems that the demigods whatever they are giving it is Krishna only giving. so there is some sort of convergence here. Krishna says I also give faith to the demigod worshiper, and by elaborating further in ninth chapter on this scene, Krishna reiterates the same point that bg 9:23 and theflow of the verses, what the previous verse is saying and what the next verse is saying. the previous verse is talking about those who are unalloyed devotees, without any distraction to any other deities, they only worship Krishna. ananyas cintayanto mam. and the next verse is very emphatic aham he sarva-yajnanam I alone am the ultimate object of all sacrifices. So the emphasis of this verse is not on that even if you worship demigods the worship will reach Krishna, the emphasis is that ‘yes when the worship of demigod is performed they are also worshiping Krishna but the empasis of this verse is the last line yajanty avidhi-purvakam bg 9;23, it is in wrong way, it is avidi-purvakam. So although at one level Krishna seem to say that ‘yes the worship of demigods is also my worship but he earlier says in seventh chapter and again refutes in the nenth chapter that the worship of the demigods do not attain me, they attain the demigods. So there are two different things that is , the form of worship and the result of worship. So at the highest level when the person is worshiping the demigods, because the demigods are representatives of Krishna so it can be said that he is ultimately worshiping Krishna. but because that person doesn’t know that Krishna as supreme , so that person does not go to Krishna. that person goes to the demigods because his consciousness in not in Krishna his consciousness is in demigod and that’s where he will go. So although one can, if we take out of context take and find some verses, which suggest convergence that all path leads to the same goal. So the most often quoted verse for this idea that all path leads to same goal is bg 4:11 mama vartmanuvartante manusyah partha sarvasah , if we look at the literal flow of the words , my path follow people Arjuna all, that will be the literal sequence, so from the grammatical point of view most accurate translation would be ‘all people follow my path’ but some people translate this as, they take sarvash as adjective for tam, and they keep mama not qualifies by any adjective, so they try to translate this as ‘ all paths O Arjuna surely leads to me’, so all paths followed by men lead to me. Now this translation is grammatically unsound, logically unsustainable, and philosophically unscrupulous. It is grammatically unsound because sarvash comes closer to manusyah than it is much further away from the word tama. and the basic logical of the grammar is that if the adjective voice is for the noun that comes closest to it unless there is some extraordinary exception which are very rare , so it is grammatically unsound. Now if you look at it logically, logically it is unsustainable, as i said , if all paths are going to lead to Krishna then why does Krishna had to speak Bhagavad Gita at all ?, arjuna would have done whatever he wanted and Arjuna would have attained Krishna. and philosophically unscrupulous because actually speaking, the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita clearly talks about the progression. Now if you look at progression verses , the clear indication is in bg 6:46.47 , where Krishna is telling clearly that one path is higher than the other path. tapasvibhyo dhiko yogi jnanibhyo pi dhikah, karmibhyas cadhiko yogi tasmad yogi bhavarjuna, here He is glorifying the path of yoga, so here He is saying that the yogi is higher than the tapasavi, yogi is higher than the gyani and yogi is higher than the karmi. Those who are followers of yoga tradition, just quote this verse and say that the yogi path is the greatest, Krishna establishes that. But Krishna doesn’t say that the path of yoga is greater than the path of bhakti. In fact the next verse says that among the yogi who is the best ? yoginam api sarvesam mad-gatenantar-atmana, sraddavan bhajate yo mam sa me yuktatamo matah, , it says amoung all the yogis mad-gatenantar-atama, one who thinks of me in his heart, sraddavan bhajate yo mam – he worships me. So now some people have the idea that the path of yoga teaches absorption and merger into the oneness of the absolute. their idea is that the yogi mediates on the super soul of the heart and when he advances on his meditation on the super soul, at that time he realizes that i and the super soul are one. But Krishna is telling that highest yogi is yuktatamo, yukta which indicates connection it does not indicates oneness, it is not any word which says (??????????), or ??????????????,. Yukta means connection, there are two entities and are being connected. and Krishna says yuktatamo most intimately connected with me, and He is saying sraddavan bhajate yo mam , one who has faith in me, Now faith in Krishna is something which is required to start the process of bhakti. Why Krishna is talking of faith at this level of yogic perfection. He has already talked that yogi is higher than all other forms of transcendentalists, of all other who follow the various different vedic paths. then why He has to talk about faith? because anybody to follow any path require faith, and if somebody is on topmost path and somebody is the highest level of the topmost path. So he says the path of the yoga is the highest according to the hierarchy of bg 6;46, and in bg 6;47 He is talking about the yogi who is most intimately united . then why he had to talk about sharddah for such a person, and why does Krishna says, sraddavan bhajae yo mam , says he worships me , he adores me , he serves me, so this indicates that sradda is in the transcendence of Krishna. that Krishna is not just the form the Brahman has taken temporarily , for elevating the conditional souls. It is not that impersonal brahman is heigher than Krishna and one has to use Krishna’s form to go beyond Him . So here the word sraddha refers to the faith that Krishna is the real eternal transcendental person. and this is actually the conclusion of Arjuna also. At the end of tenth chapter after Krishna speaks the chatursloki bhagavad gita param brahma param dhama pavitram paramam bhavan, purusam sasvatam divyam adi-devam ajam vibhum. He uses very personalistic nouns to describe Krishna . He calls him param brahma so he is not talking about low level of brahma here. mayavadis have an idea that there is a low level of brahma and higher lovel of brahma. Here Arjuna is talking about param brahma the supreme brahma, and he says that you are that param brahma . param dhama pavitram paramam bhaban that you are the supreme purest and purusham, it is very clear, he is referring to a person, and further he says divam not material, not mundane, transcendental. And Krishna had earlier also said that janma karme ca me divam, (spelling ???????????), one who understand that my activities and appearance is transcendental, he gets liberated and comes back to me. Krishna is not saying that one who understands that actually beyond my janma and karma is the divya brahman, one who understand will come to me. Krishna says that understanding my birth and activities will liberate you. not that using my birth and activities to go beyond that and something else will liberate you. Krishna clearly says mattah parataram nanyat kincid asti dhananjaya bg 7;7, there is no truth other than me oh Arjuna. So again the same point of sradda comes again in comparative sense in bg 12;2 which is again Krishna’s answer to a very question of Arjuna. So in the 12th chapter an exquisite question is asked by Arjuna that which part is better ? those who meditate on the brahman or those who worship you ? and Krishna answers very clearly mayy avesya mano ye mam nitya yukta upasate, sraddaya parayopetas te me yukatama matah, so sraddaya parayopetas, so those who worship me with transcendental faith, transcendental faith means that they understand that my form is transcendental and the faith in me should continue even in the transcendental realm. So Krishna will in the 17th chapter talk about faith in the three modes of material nature, and accordingly Krishna says that people worship demigods or people may worship.bg 17;4 yajante sattvika devan , yaksa reksamsi rajasah, pretan bhuta-ganams canye, yajante tamasa janah. men in the mode of goodness worship; the demigods, those in the mode of passion worship the demons, and those in the mode of ignorance worship ghosts and spirits. But those who worship me with transcendental faith they are the best oh Arjuna. So here if you look at the hierarchy Krishna talks about, all this is discussed with respect to 6;46.47 . in bg 6:46 Krishna clearly says that yogi is the highest , in bg 6:47 He says that yogi who worships me and serves me is the highest among all yogis. So that refers to bhakti yoga. Now another way to understand this progression of Bhagavad Gita is to look at Krishna’s own describers of the knowledge that He is giving. So whenever Krishna talks about the message of bhakti he uses describers or glorifiers after that description to indicate how important it is. so just before the two cruxes verses of the 18th chapter, bg 18:65,66 , Krishna uses comparative sense, He says that “Now I will give the most confidential knowledge “, so in bg 18:64 He tells that Arjuna, sarva-guhyatamam bhuyah, srnu me paramam vacah, isto si me drdham iti, tato vaksyami te hitam. So the most confidential knowledge I will give you. so what is that most confidential knowledge ? That most confidential knowledge is that the next two verses, become my devotee, and I will deliver you from all sinful reactions. So there is no doubt here that these two verses are referring clearly to bhakti. Krishna is saying mam evaisyasi , you will come to me. He does not say ‘ you will merge into me’. Interestingly Krishna uses a word here bhuyah , this is the most confidential knowledge so I am saying this to you again, So if you look at bhagavad Gita, where else has Krishna used the word guhyatamam ? So He has used that word earlier in, before the starting of 10th chapter, in bg 10:1. So there He says bhuya eva maha-baho, srnu me paramam vacah, yat te ham priyamanaya, vaksyami hita-kamyaya, He says Arjuna, again here I will speak to you my supreme words, paramam vacah , why I am speaking to you ? because I love you and I desire your benefit, that’s why I am speaking this to you. So He is saying that these are paramam vacah, supreme words, and Krishna says bhuya eva speaking again,
Why? because he had spoken this just in the last verse of previous chapter. that is also man-mana bhava mad-bhakto. This is almost identical to the verse Krishna will speak towards the end of Bhagavad Gita 18: 65. So over all Krishna uses the same words paramam vach supreme message or most confidential message, He uses that again in the 14th chapter when He says that , param bhuyah prvaksyami, jnananam jnanam uttamam, yaj jnatva munayah sarve, param siddhim ito gatah, He says that I am the best among all the knowledge you seek, and again oh Arjuna (so again means I have spoken in b 9:34, bg 10:1), Now I will speak again to you. And if you look at the 14th chapter, it seems to be the knowledge of jyana , the analysis of three modes of material nature, but the theme is, Krishna says, how we transcend the three modes ? by unbreakable devotional service. mam ……………………. so by unbreakable devotional services one can transcend the modes. So by jyana one can know the modes . But Krishna says if you can transcend the modes you have to take the process of bhakti. So Krishna is quite clear that the most confidential knowledge is the knowledge of bhakti. It is not knowledge of merger, it is the knowledge of devotional service and worship. so there is the progression in Bhagavad Gita. And if you want to look at the progression in another way, Krishna says that the path of karma yoga culminates in bhakti, He says that in bg 3:30, mayi sarvani karmani sannyasyadhyatma- cetasa, He has described the path of karma yoga as it is ascending upwards , and He describes the culmination, in this when he says that the ‘perfection of karma yoga is to offer the fruit of your work to me’, and Krishna talks about the path of jyana also leading to bhakti, He actually talks about it in bgt 7:19, bahunam janmanam ante, jnanavan mam prapadyate, vasudevah sarvam iti, sa mahatma su-durlabhah. So it does not say that jyani gives up bhakti and merges in me, It says when a person becomes jyani, then he surrenders to me and becomes my bhakta, and this may take one life times. and similarly how bhakti is superior path of jyana, is also talked about in bg 12:1,2. as I mentioned earlier, and I discussed also how in bg 6:46,47, Krishna says that ” path of yoga culminates in bhakti. In remembrance of Krishna in devotional to Krishna, and this Krishna repeatedly mentions in bhagavad gita , in 6th chapter, which is path of yoga. Krishna mentions , talks about as a reference to himself as perfection, and he talks about it again in bg 6:30, when he says that top most yogi is ‘ one who sees me as everywhere.
I have given systematic overview of Bhagavad Gita, all the chapters where i have explained all this in much more details but actually bg 6:28 talks about brahman realization, bg 6:29 talks about parmatama realization, and bg 6:30 talks about bhagavan realization. How a yogi progresses in his realization higher and higher, So beyond parmatama realization is not merger realization, it is bhagavan realization, and that is why in Bhagavad Gita its clearly a progression. Now let us try to understand the diversion verses and the convergent verses from this progressive prospective. Because the Bhagavad Gita co culminates in the progression, it is higher knowledge, this was secret knowledge, more secret knowledge, most secret knowledge. in bg 18:63, Krishna says i have given you knowledge more secret than earlier. and in bg 18:64, He says that I have given the most confidential knowledge. So according to the mimansa rules of the interpretation of a book, which are adopted even by the vedantiasts , these are the standards for understanding the message of the book. So ‘the beginning’ ‘the conclusion” the repetetion”the emphasis’, the uniqueness, these are the five features that define ‘what is the message of the book?’. So if you look at the beginning that is ‘surrender’, Arjuna is surrendering to Krishna as a guru. At the end if we see that ‘surrender’ is boosted in enlightenment. By end of Bhagavad Gita Krishna and Arjuna don’t merge but actually Arjuna becomes pure and dedicated servant of Krishna, a devotee of Krishna. So towards the end we clearly see a hierarchy , a progression and that’s what I said that we can see in different places in Bhagavad Gita the flow also. So if progression is the essential message of the Gita, then why does gita sometimes talks about convergence and divergence ? So let us look at divergence, The important point is that all the paths progress ultimately towards Krishna, but if a person gets stuck at a particular level, on this progression, then that person doesn’t get the destination of Krishna.
And if the person thinks that being stuck at that particular level itself is the perfection then that person gets the divergent result. So if by demigod worship, which is within the modes , one transcends and ultimately comes to Krishna worship. then the demigod worship is the progression that will lead to Krishna worship. But if one sticks to demigod worship as the ultimate goal of life, then demigod worship will lead to different destination. So there is a progression , if we can envision ladder with multiple rounds on it, there is progression in two things, there is progression in sadhya and there is progression in sadhana. So sadhya is the goal, so the goal can be demigod and their abode the swargas, the goals can be prosperity in the this world. the goal can be brahman , liberation, merger in brahma jyoti, goal can be to go back to spiritual world and live there eternally with Krishna. So there can be multiple goals for the aspirants within the vedic folds and there can be multiple paths. So normally people in the path of karma will lead to prosperity in this world or lead to attainment of swarga and demigods in the next world. The path of jyana will lead to liberation and merger in brahman. The path of yoga will help one attain supernatural powers initially and will help one get spiritual realization. So if the yogi thinks that I am going to merge into the parmatama then he goes to brahman, if he understands that I am the servant of parmatama then he goes to vaikuntha and generally attains dasya rasam. and ofcourse if someone is bhakta then he goes directly attains the spiritual world to be in eternal associate of Krishan. So the point is that in the vedic culture there is flexibility of sadhya and sadhana. With respect to sadhya there are four principal sadhya, material prosperity in this world, material prosperity in the next world, liberation into brahaman and return to the spiritual world to be an associate of Krishna. And with respect tot the sadhna, there is karma, there is jyana, there is yoga and there is bhakti. So actually if we look at the Bhagavad Gita, if any of these intermediate sathnas or sadhayas , so material prosperity in this world or the next world and if personal karma yoga and jyana they are intermediate or transitional sadhanas, they are not the eternal or the ultimate sadhana. So with respect to the progression all these a person can go from brahman towards bhagvan, a person can go from demigods towards bhagvan, and a person can go from the path of karma yoga to the path of bhakti yoga, but if a person gets stuck at a particular sadhaya or sadhana, then that person gets different destination from what that was the ultimate intended destination of the Bhagavad gita. so when a person is stuck at a particular round of the ladder , then it does not mean that he is stuck to that rung of the ladder , from there he can go to the destination which is compatible to that rung. So in that case the path becomes divergent.
So shrila Prabhupada explains this in the bg6:47 purport that actually there is only one yoga and there are various levels in that yoga, but if the person gets stuck at a particular level than he is named by that level as yogi of that kind, so if somebody is stuck at the path of ashtang yoga he is called as the ashtang yogi, like that. so when Krishna wants to emphasis that if a person considers a particular intermediate sadhaya or sadhana to be ultimate, then that person will get a different destination. so for that he will talk about divergence. and bg 9:25 is a very clear example of this divergence principle. If he considers one path to be ultimate then we will get the different destination. So now when Krishna talks about convergence as He does in bg 5:4, that has a different purpose. In Arjuna’s mind the path of renunciation is superior to the path of action. and that notion has some basis in the vedic culture because sanyasis were renounced action are considered higher than the grastas who are engaged in action. So Arjuna is thinking that actually speaking the path of renunciation is superior to the path of action, and then he is thinking that actually if I want to take a superior path , why Krishna is discouraging, why is Krishna stopping ? so in the Bhagavad Gita Krishna has established to Arjuna that actually whatever one can attain by renouncing the world, one can attain even by acting in the world, so Krishna is over all encouraging Arjuna to follow the path of action and not the path of renunciation. So for that purpose, He is telling that these two paths are equivalent . However if we had to go further in the chapter, then Krishna will say that, by bg 5:29. the path of action will lead to path of devotion. bhokaram yajna-tapasam sarva loka mahesvaram, one who understands me to be the ultimate goal of all paths, that person will attain the ultimate peace. So the convergence principle used by Krishna to just help Arjuna understand that actually speaking that it is not generic principle that the people on the path of renunciation and contemplation is superior to the path of action. firstly this does not refer to ISKCON scenario where the brahmacharies and sanyasis and we have grahasta. Because even the brahmacharis and grahastras are engaged in action. and even the grahastras as exhibiting renunciation in the form of following four regulative principles. So Krishna is here referring to the jyana margmarg and the karma marg. jyana marga means, the path of renunciation in terms of giving up action. So for that purpose Krishna is telling that ok that path , the renunciates may be higher in the sense that they have detached themselves from the world, but this detachment is not the ultimate goal, one has to ultimately attach spiritually to me. So Krishna says by detaching one self from this world, whatever fruit one can get, one will get that even by engaging in this world with an attitude of detachment initially and with an attitude of attachment to me eventually. so this way Krishna uses the convergence idea to reassure Arjuna that the path of engagement in not inferior to the path of detachment. and then as the thought process progresses further He will reveal that actually the path of engagement, if it is permeated with detachment and devotion, than it is superior to the path of detachment and inaction. So in this way there are some aspects of convergence and divergence in Bhagavad Gita, but in conclusion and culmination the Bhagavad Gita has a ladder, ladder in a sense of progression. where the highest sadhya is bhakati and the highest sadhana is the the Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan Shri Krishna.
Do all paths lead to the same goal ? YES , if one knows that same goal. If karmis, yogis, jyanis they all know that their ultimate goal is Krishna and then they adopt their path for transitional purposes of elevation and ultimately come to Krishna, then all their paths will lead to the same goal. But if the same goal is not clear to people and they have their own conception of their goals, then all paths will not lead to the same goal, all paths will lead to different goals according what ones individual conception is. That;s why Shrila Prabhupada would not quote the second part of bg 4:11. The first part is ye yatha mam prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajany aham-as all people surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly. So if people approach me for getting heavenly pleasures, I reward them accordingly Krishna says. If people approach me for attain brahama liberation, I reward them accordingly, If people approach me for attaining my eternal abord as an eternal associate, I give them that role also. So there is not the idea of all path lead to the same goal in the absolute sense. All paths are ultimately meant to take us to the same goal, but for that we need to know what that ultimate goal is. And if know what that ultimate goal is, then there is an ultimate path which is the easiest way to that goal. So once you understand that the ultimate goal is Bhagavan, then bhakti yoga is the ultimate path, it is the easiest path to reach that goal. Of course the karmis, jyanis, yogis also understand that the ultimate goal is Krishna, then through their path they can eventually come to Krishna. But if people do not know what is that ultimate goal , then their other paths will lead them to their respective destination, not to the ultimate destination. and in that sense, all paths do not lead to the same goal. So we can rephrase the comentry that all paths leads to the same goal to – ALL PATHS ARE MEANT TO LEAD US TO THE SAME GOAL, but all paths do not lead us all the way to the same goal. The ultimate goal is to go beyond of this world to the spiritual world to Krishna’s lotus feet, so the path of karma takes us only partially along the way till swarga, the path of jyana takes us partially along the way to the brahmajyoti, the path of yoga takes as along the way, still further than the path of karma and jyana till parmatama realization, but not fully. So all paths do not take us all to the same goal. And there is only one path which takes us to that ultimate goal and that goal is not everything, that ultimate goal is very specific person, and it is that specific person who is the ultimate goal of the Bhagavad Gita. thankyou very much.